Today in Transportation History – 1963: The First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, landed safely back on Earth after a three-day mission on orbit.

Tereshkova was born in central Russia in 1937 to so-called ‘proletarian’ parents, and out of school worked at a textile factory. She developed a passion for skydiving during this period, and this skill brought her to the attention of Sergey Korolyov, the head of the Soviet cosmonaut program. In 1961, Tereshkova was one of five (out of 400) women applicants selected and immediately began a rigorous training regime that included pilot training, spacecraft engineering, weightless simulation, and, Tereshkova’s specialty, parachute jumps. Four of the five candidates graduated from the training in late 1962 and were commissioned in the Soviet Air Force. Tereshkova and two of her fellow female cosmonauts, Irina Solovyova and Valentina Ponomaryova, were immediately selected for a joint Vostok 5-6 mission that would take place in March or April of 1963.

Last-minute changes to the spacecraft and crew makeup meant that a male cosmonaut, Valery Bykovsky launched aboard the Vostok 5 on June 14 while Tereshkova watched from mission control. Two days later, she was strapped into the Vostok 6 and launched into orbit at 9:30 a.m UTC. Despite nausea and physical discomfort for nearly the entire 3-day mission, Tereshkova still managed to conduct her flight duties, data collection, photography, and testing of the spacecraft’s capabilities and systems. (Decades later it was revealed that during the first day on orbit, Tereshkova discovered a potentially deadly flaw in the craft’s control program that would have sent her flying off further into space, rather than returning to Earth when attempting to descend. Engineers on the ground corrected the fault, and provided Tereshkova a patch to get her safely back to the ground.)

Tereshkova’s mission as the first female in space was not duplicated until 19 years later when Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman to go into orbit aboard the Soyuz T-7.

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